June 11, 2016

Who's Who: Finding Support for Gifted Students at Your School

Stacked in Stone from Wikimedia
Starting a parent support group for gifted students at your school takes effort - but the rewards, for you as a parent and for your child, are worth it. When I volunteered to act as President for the Discovery Booster Club (DBC) at Northridge Elementary this year, I didn't know very much about the DBC or the Discovery Program. So instead of making assumptions or going in blind, I conducted a series of short interviews with various people and groups who support the Discovery Program.

The idea was to educate myself about my school so I could find ways to support it as a parent and as DBC President. I was lucky enough to have time with the prior DBC President and members of the existing DBC Board. DBC has been active since 2009, so there is a lot of information and experience in our school's community that I could draw on to help me learn quickly.

If you're starting from scratch to build your own group, I still think that interviews are worthwhile because the interview process helps you to establish trust. You will be more effective at advocating for change when you can show you're aware of what are the challenges facing all students at your school and how the school is addressing those issues. Get educated so you can join the conversation.

Who to Interview

A good starting point is your child's teacher. Set an appointment and prepare to ask them questions about your student's learning needs. What are things you could do at school and at home to support your student? Volunteer to help during math or reading time so your teacher can provide more differentiated instruction to all the students during class. Your teacher could be one of the biggest supporters for more teacher training and support for gifted students.

Next on your list is your school's Gifted and Talented Coordinator. Every school in the Douglas County School District has one. Your GT Coordinator can help you learn how the school currently supports gifted students. A GT Coordinator could also help you organize a gifted parent meeting or a host a SENG Parent Model Support Group at your school.

Another critical stakeholder is your school principal. Every school in Colorado must have a School Accountability Committee (SAC) that regularly meets at your school.  Attending a SAC meeting is a good way for you to meet you school principal and learn about what are the challenges the school as a whole is facing. The SAC meeting is parent-organized, so it's also a good opportunity to meet other like-minded parents.

Depending on your school, there may be other school staff that work frequently with gifted students. Consider teachers who run after-school programs that gifted students participate in, such as Destination Imagination and Battle of the Books. Also remember to look at teachers for school electives and specials, like art and music. Many academically gifted students have a passion for more than just math and reading.

One other staff member I highly recommend you meet is your School Psychologist. Supporting the social and emotional development of your gifted student is as important as supporting their academic success. Learn what your school has in place to support the social and emotional growth of all its students. For example, at Northridge, our School Psychologist meets with each Discovery class once a week. She organized a book study discussion group for the entire Discovery 4th Grade class about what it means to be gifted and how to advocate for yourself as a gifted learner. DBC used its funds to purchase the books for the program.

Next Steps

Take notes from your meetings and compile them into a short report. What are some common things you heard? What is working? Where are the gaps? Share your feedback with the people you interviewed and with other parents. Start organizing discussions about how you can work together in the future to address these needs. 

If you're thinking of starting a parent group to support gifted children at your school, I highly recommend reading this booklet from the National Association for Gifted Children, "Starting and Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children". It gives you a good overview of what's involved and provides actionable steps for starting your group.

Good luck on your journey! If you have questions, feel free to email me at filipina@pate.org.

Filipina Pate is the 2016-2017 President of the Discovery Booster Club of Northridge Elementary. She was Vice President for the Douglas County Association for Gifted and Talented and a trained SENG Parent Model Group Facilitator. She has two gifted kids in the Discovery Program.